Hands-On with the Philips Hue White and Color Ambiance Starter Kit

Posted on July 25, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Android, Cloud, iOS, Mobile, Paul, Smart Home with 49 Comments

Hands-On with the Philips Hue White and Color Ambiance Starter Kit

Thanks to a $100-off sale at Best Buy this week, I snagged a Philips Hue White and Color Ambiance Starter Kit with Google Home a bit ahead of my expected schedule. But that’s fine, and it gives me a fun opportunity to preview the smart lighting solution I’ve chosen for our new home.

Note: I’m documenting my smart home in a series of Premium articles, the most recent of which isPaul’s Tech Makeover: First Steps Towards a Smart(er) Home (Premium). Long story short, I’ve chosen the Philips Hue product line for smart lighting. And while I wasn’t going to purchase anything until we had moved in (late August) and knew exactly what we needed, the Best Buy sale was too good to pass up, as we’ll need each of those pieces.

For those unfamiliar with smart lighting—and, no worries there, as I’m new to this as well—the Philips Hue line seems like the obvious choice. It’s compatible with everything—Apple HomeKit, if you’re an iOS guy, but also Google Home, which is what I’m using—offers a wide range of lighting options, and is incredibly powerful and extensible.

Current living room with “normal” light color.

Philips Hue is based around a simple bridge that connects via Ethernet to your home network and then wirelessly to the Hue light bulbs and other devices within your home. Setup is easy and similar to the ways in which you might set up a Google Home appliance or the Google Wifi mesh networking solution. That is, all you need to do is make the connections, and then run a simple wizard in a mobile app. It takes minutes to get up and running.

Philips makes a couple of Hue starter kits. They both include the bridge, which is required to put the “smart” in the smart lights, and can control up to 50 devices. And then you get three light bulbs, which can be either white or white and color. I chose the latter version. The Best Buy sale was basically a bundle that included this starter kit plus a Google Home appliance. So now we have two. (Which, yes, was the plan.)

I placed the new Google Home in our kitchen for starters, since that’s where it will be in the new house. I won’t belabor the point: It found the other Home on the network, and it is easy to setup.

For the Hue starter kit, I replaced the three normal (“dumb”) LED light bulbs in our current living room with the three Hue smart light bulbs and turn on each lamp; without any smart controls, they work normally and identically to the bulbs they replace.

Then, I connected the bridge to my home network over Ethernet—which is a curious requirement, when you think about it, not that it impacts me in any way—and then to power. When the device powered up, I launched the Philips Hue app on my iPhone and set about configuring it. Basically, you scan a code and you’re good to go.

My goals, for now, are modest: We’re moving in a month and I’ll need to really figure out the smart lighting configuration we’ll need at that time. For now, I just wanted to see it work.

So, I configured the three bulbs as a single room, imaginatively named “Living room.” That happened seamlessly, and without doing anything else, you can turn all three on and off as one from the app.

But you can also select the room and then choose between three sets of color controls: Color, which allegedly provides 16 million choices, Whites, which runs the gamut from warm to cool whites, and Recipes.

That last one is the most interesting, in a way, because it provides presets like Relax, Read, Concentrate, and Energize that color or tone (warm/cool) the room ambiance accordingly.

Suitably impressed with this simple capability, I gathered the family for a demo, thus ensuring that we will now spend thousands of dollars on additional smart light and controls, including strips, lamps, and things I can’t even yet imagine.

Our current living room bathed in red light.

Indeed, what makes Hue so impressive as a platform is its extensibility and automation capabilities. This brute force approach to lighting—make a room red, for example—is cute. But it’s also unsustainable, and if anyone switches a light off, it loses its settings. What’s really going to sell this is the ability to create scenes, and to apply lighting according to rules like time, weather, or events. For example, you could configure this thing to flash every light red whenever the Red Sox score a run. The possibilities are endless, and of course many applications are a bit more necessary than that example.

But first, there’s also that Google Home integration to consider.

As you can with Siri (via Apple HomeKit) and Alexa (via various Amazon Echo devices), you can control Hue lights and devices with Google Home. (Thus the bundle.) And—surprise—this is easy to set up too.

To connect the Hue system to your Google Home, first make sure that you’ve created a Hue account and signed in with the Hue app. Then, launch the Google Home app on your phone, navigate to Home control in the menu, and choose Philips Hue from the long list of supported systems.

Google Home didn’t respect the “Living room” room that I had set up in the Hue app, but it did find all three lights and let me add them to a room in that app too. And from that point, I could say things like, “Hey Google, turn on the lights” or “Hey Google, make the lights red” to control the system. In the future, when there are more lights, I will need to be more specific (e.g. “Hey Google, make all the living room lights green”). But it works great.

So I’ll be playing with Hue a lot more once we get to Pennsylvania, and I’ll be writing a lot more about my smart lighting and smart home moves in Premium posts in the weeks and months ahead.

See you on the other side. I’ll be the guy bathed in that pleasant, colored light.


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Comments (49)

49 responses to “Hands-On with the Philips Hue White and Color Ambiance Starter Kit”

  1. SRLRacing

    Xbox green to tell your family and the neighbors "Back away! Back away! I am pwning some noobs!"

  2. MikeGalos

    Two problems with Philips Hue that are solved with LIFX

    The need for a hub

    The problem with brightness. The Philips bulbs are about half the lumens of the LIFX ones. Granted, the LIFX ones get the extra brightness by adding white so you get the same brightness for pure RGB colors but for actual reading level lighting you get various colors at full brightness while having all the colors of the Philips bulbs at the same intensities.

    Oh, and LIFX fully supports Windows 10 which is a fairly common standard in, say, homes. (I rarely carry my home network and 110v AC lighting system around with me so smartphone compatibility with just Android or iOS is kind of irrelevant)

    • MikeGalos

      In reply to MikeGalos:

      Oh, and then there's the LIFX+ bulbs which also provide an infrared channel so they can be set invisible to humans but still provide light for IR security cameras.

    • Minok

      In reply to MikeGalos:

      The hub does more than just act as a signal repeater, its also a bridge to a home controller and the wifi system. Admittedly its redundant since a home controller that already understands zigbee and zwave should be able to directly communicate with the Hue lamps. But the controller/hub provides a low power way of having the lights come on at dusk (the Hue hub/app cannot do that, but the home automation hubs can direct that), or turn on when you drive up to the house at night. A running Windows PC acting as a controller without more cannot accomplish that.

  3. Mark from CO



    Isn't this an IoT and cloud offering by a business to real customers?  And where is Microsoft?????

    And Microsoft is really going to own IoT and the cloud?  Looks like its competitors have a real head start (again) that can be leveraged into other products and markets.

    Mark from CO

  4. JC

    what do you do if something happens to your phone? Can you use your PC or tablet's to operate your smart home?

    • Simard57

      In reply to JC:

      I am using Home Remote to control my Wink hub and garage door opener on my SP3.

      I have not found a suitable way to control my fan with lights in the BR. I have a combo wallswitch that I use now with dimmer controls for lights and speed controls for the fan. I do not know how to fix that!

    • Minok

      In reply to JC:

      If the phone is the only control device you have for your home automation system and you lose it, the same thing will happen as if you loose the remote for your TV - you cannot intervene until you find it or replace it. But the hub rules/actions continue running.

    • Skolvikings

      In reply to JC:

      Regarding Philips Hue, you can control it with any iOS or Android device, Amazon Echo, Google Home, etc. Considering Echo Dots are so cheap, would make sense to at least get one of them.

      But specifically to the Hue, you can still use your physical light switch to turn the bulbs on or off.

  5. Narg

    I've used Hue for a long time. Don't really use the color option much. But one of the neatest things I've done with a Hue color bulb was setup the smartphone app (sorry, I forget the name but I'm sure it's easy to Google for.) that used the camera to watch the TV screen and change the color of the bulb to match the scene in the move I was watching. With the bulb behind the TV it made for a very awesome ambience.

  6. ejryder3

    I love my Hue lights. I have 9 bulbs now with more planned over time.

  7. Skolvikings

    The worst part of Philips Hue is overnight power outages. We lost power for about 10 seconds a few nights ago due to a thunderstorm. As soon as the power came back, all our Hue bulbs turned on to white full brightness. That was a fun way to wake up at 3:00 AM.

    Fortunately we only have Hue bulbs in our bedroom at this point, because since the Hue hub and our Echo take a little bit to reinitialize, we ended up having to use the physical power switch on our nightstand lamps to turn off the lights so we could go back to sleep.

    Of course, the next morning it took me a moment remember why "Alexa, turn on the bedroom lights" wasn't working.

  8. D35011

    I originally tried Philips Hue lights, but I found them to be not as bright as I needed, nor was their color saturation/accuracy very impressive. I returned the Hue lights and tried LIFX. I'm much happier with the LIFX brightness and color quality. I currently have 14 bulbs installed.

  9. martinp17

    I just checked out Ikea's new smart bulb platform. They control everything with a wireless switch which has buttons for dimmer (up/down) and color balance (left/right to cycle through various types of white). Seems easier to deal with than dealing with each color as Hue does. Their hub allows you integration with other platforms and scenes and lamp groups. I'm pretty sure Google will support that platform sooner or later...

  10. martinp17

    I wonder what Microsoft will do with their Home Hub which was leaked earlier this year. I suspect they will support various technologies just like Google Home does with a focus on standards such as Z-Wave ... but may be support Android/ios/osx/win clients! I'm reluctant to buy into any of the proprietary solutions! Unfortunately standards focus on the basics, like on/off, but not for color selection etc.

  11. Minok

    I've been working with Hue lights (its pointlessly required hub) and a Vera home automation hub/controller for over a year now. At this point its proven to be pretty reliable in doing the few things I've been having it work on (and getting data on reliability of):

    1) It turns on my back yard lights at dusk by the Vera home controller activating a z-wave in wall light switch that controls the back lights, and turning those lights off around 11pm.

    2) It turns on my bedroom lights (Hue multi-color LED) via the wake-up scene, starting at 6:50 to bright at 7:00 (and then shutting off at 8:00)

    3) It turns on my bedroom lights around 8pm (so they are on when I go to bed - I then turn them off via the smartphone). The light switch in the bedroom is thus always in the ON position.

    4) The Vera software registers when I leave the house and come home by proximity of my phone(app) entering the radius of my home.

    To be added to this ultra simple list going forward:

    * Water leak sensors driving a water shut-off valve that will turn off the water if a leak springs at dishwasher/washing machine/water heater (the places with flex hoses or known weak points) and alerts me.

    * Outward facing cameras and smart doorbell (to flash lights on a doorbell ring as well).

  12. Brett Barbier

    To me, making the bulbs smart is the wrong thing to do - instead, the switches should be smart. Then again, if you go with smart switches and dumb bulbs, you don't get the ability to change the color of the light - but (again, to me), that seems cool but gimmicky.

  13. derekaw

    My Lifx bulbs work perfectly about 90% of the time. Mostly after a power outage they go offline and need various things done to make them work again. I am wondering if the Hue light with the hub, solves this problem somehow?

  14. Lateef Alabi-Oki

    I'm anti-hub, so the smart devices I purchase need to support direct WiFi connection.

    If you're like me, you should take a look LIFX bulbs. It does everything the Philips Hue bulbs do but it's much cheaper, doesn't need a hub, and according to a few reviews has much more vibrant colors.

    Also for light fixtures that aren't lamps, you should like into smart switches. The Wemo smart light switches, smart light dimmers, and outlet switches work well with Google Home. As a matter of fact, it makes more sense economically and practically to invest in smart light switches as opposed to light bulbs especially if you don't care about changing colors of light bulbs.

    Smarts switches can be operated manually, remotely, or automatically. You don't have to worry about telling guests or family members to remember not to manually toggle switches, as you'd do when using smart light bulbs. They also can be automated with rules and schedules. You can setup the front porch lights to turn on at sunset and off at sunrise.

    So, before investing in smart light bulbs, see if a smart light switch or smart outlet will meet your needs for much cheaper.

    • Minok

      In reply to mystilleef:

      The cheaper and best devices don't use wifi, they use low power zigbee or zwave radio technology which provide additional benefits that WiFi cannot provide. Hubs really should be (and are in some cases) home automation controllers - that not only bridge the wifi command/control to the zigbee or zwave signals, but also store and execute programs once set up, without user intervention.

      • Lateef Alabi-Oki

        In reply to Minok:

        Low power radio protocols are nice for battery powered devices, but for devices permanently tethered to a power source, as is the case with most home automation smart-devices, they essentially useless.

        In addition, Zigbee and Zwave are reputed to be insecure protocols. I believe Google's Thread protocol addresses many of the security shortcomings on Zigbee and Zwave, but Thread-capable hubs are few to non-existent.

        Home automation controllers have by and large been outsourced to the cloud. A hub is not needed anymore to store and execute scheduled home automation rules.

  15. chaad_losan

    It's all a rabbit hole. And way too expensive now.

    • Mestiphal

      In reply to chaad_losan:

      I want to jump on the smart home wagon but don't see the benefits of the investment. Small home where a single light bulb can light up the living room and half the dining room. there are three light bulbs total in close range, living room, dining room and kitchen, where it's honestly faster to reach for the light switch than to reach for the phone.

      I have a split air, as houses in the tropic very seldomlly are setup for central air, so I have a tiny Panasonic remote which unfortunate I cannot replace with a smart thermostat.

      Honestly I don't even know where I could start with a smart home. The one thing I do have is a light sensor on my porch light, which automatically turns the light on at dusk and leave it on for like 6 hours. Which is great because if we go out and arrive at home late at night we'll have light to find the keyhole

  16. Patrick3D

    Paul, If you are interested in reading about another person's adventure into Smart Home technology, Ben Lovejoy (Technology Writer, currently over at 9to5Mac) has been keeping a diary of his experiences upgrading his home: https://9to5mac.com/?s=smart+home+diary

    He seemed to have an immediate love affair with colored lighting, then tempered his view after a few weeks. He is currently in the process of selling his home that has all of the tech installed and thinking about what he will do in his new home.

  17. evox81

    Huge fan of Philp Hue... Have a little over a dozen bulbs in my house, and will definitely be adding more as ideas (and funds) come up. The flexibility of controlling individual lights is why I went with this over "smart" switches or similar make-dumb-things-smart setups. Most practical: We have 4 recessed lights, one in each corner of the living room. TV is mounted on the wall, fairly high up, in one of the corners, just behind one of the lights. With all of the lights on, watching TV is annoying with the light shining directly in your face. Click a scene, the offending light turns off, a Hue strip behind the TV comes on for bias lighting and the other 3 corners dim slightly. Super nerdy, yet practical!

  18. KingPCGeek

    We played with the colors when we first got them, not so much since. Now its just a battle to get the right white.

  19. Lars lalaa

    Philips Hue is nice but expensive. I’m curious how the smart lighting solution form Ikea will evolve. They have just entered the market and support for Apple HomeKit, Google Home and Alexa is on its way.

  20. DrMonty

    The biggest advantage I've found with the color controls is simulating sunshine during winter when even when the sun is out it's often grey and dreary thanks to the cloud cover. It might be fun to make a room green or red to celebrate the holiday, but having a realistic sunshine color after 5pm is great for a whole season.

    One nice thing about the Hue hub is that it works well with other automation systems, like a Smartthings hub, so that you can work in smart switches and outlets for other types of devices for non-lighting automation.

  21. DemBones

    We have the LIFX bulbs. They are relatively easy to install and setup and don't require a hub. They integrate well with Alexa and it is fairly easy to group and name them depending on room. The app allows you to turn them any color you want and you can use Alexa to adjust the brightness. There are also surprisingly good Windows 10 and Windows Phone 10 apps by LIFX that allow you to control them as well. At one point there was Cortana integration but that doesn't seem to be working now.

  22. lvthunder

    So you just can't set the bulb to a specific color and turn the light on and off with the switch in the wall?

    • Temme Sikkema

      In reply to lvthunder:

      I have a Philips Hue switch (on/off/dimming buttons) that you can program to turn on a Scene. So basically using that you are able to push a button and make all your lights light up in your preferred colors.

    • Paul Thurrott

      In reply to lvthunder:

      That is my understanding. I'm looking into a workaround for that.

      • Skolvikings

        In reply to paul-thurrott:

        You could use a Philips Hue dimmer kit or tap switch, both of which can be wall mounted or used as remotes, to still have a physical on/off switch that doesn't actually cut power to the bulb. Also while it wouldn't help with a lamp, you can get inexpensive guards to cover wall switches to prevent people from using them (or you could just have them removed).

      • evancox10

        In reply to paul-thurrott:

        Try the Hue wireless dimmer switch. I use these and they work great. You get exactly the behavior you're looking for. You just have to be sure to leave power to the bulb on.

        Philips Hue Dimmer Switch with Remote (Installation-Free, Exclusive for Philips Hue Lights) https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0167Z0P3I/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_apa_G7kEzb7MJDGMC

    • naven87

      In reply to lvthunder:

      No I think for most (all?) there is no re-programmable non-volatile storage so when you kill power any existing settings are gone and restored to defaults. That should be a solvable problem but it has a cost and potentially reliability impact.

  23. RoHo

    So after your move you'll have to program the lights to flash Orange when the Phillies score a run! or maybe blue for the Yankees :)

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